The year we started the 6th grade we were allowed to start band with Mrs. McCormick. She was the main reason I wanted to be in the band. I loved chorus and wanted to take more classes with her.
She had girls chorus on Monday and Wednesday and the boys met with her on Tuesday and Thursday. She put the two together for mixed chorus on Fridays.
On the days the boys had a ball game on Friday she would have the girls come to class and she would try to teach us etiquette and how to walk like a lady. We had to try to walk with a book on our heads and she always told us to stand as if someone had a string attached to the top of our head pulling up. I always had trouble balancing the book on my head and I am not sure the practice ever helped me, but she was persistent.
One evening right after school started a man from Gunn Music Company came to the school with instruments and we chose which one we wanted to play. Mrs. McCormick told us which instruments she needed in the band that year and then it was up to the parents to decide which one they could afford.
Half the class including my best friend and I wanted to play the drums. The drums were owned by the school and lots of parents wanted the kids to play them so they didn’t have to buy an instrument. But there were only three drum positions open that year; my best friend got one, then two other girls took the other two before it was my turn to choose.
Since all the drummer positions were filled I had to choose a different instrument. I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to play and finally decided on the clarinet. It was probably one of the cheapest instruments and that was the reason my parents and I chose it. I think it must have cost under $50.00.
There was a reason the clarinet was cheaper to buy and that reason was the reeds that you had to buy to play it. They could have given you the clarinet and still made a bundle selling you the reeds. Just the tiniest little bump and it would split and you had to buy a new one. You could probably fill a box car with the broken and chipped reeds I went through in the next 6 years.
I didn’t play the first night I took it home, I just took it out and put it together and took it apart and placed it back in the case a dozen times. I didn’t have a reed and that was probably a good thing, because it would have been ruined the first night I am sure.
B Band was the first class of the day and started at 8:30, what a horrifying wake up call for Mrs. McCormick and the rest of the school. It was a cacophony of squawking clarinets and saxophones and off key trumpets and flutes. The tubas and trombones were booming in the background, making such a racket that I am surprised she could hear anything else.
Mrs. McCormick sold me a reed the first morning of band practice and I didn’t think I would ever get the hang of using it. She worked with each section of instruments at a time; she had 3 clarinets that year in B band to work with the first morning.
Once we had instructions on how to finger the notes in the scale we worked together as a section while she moved on to another challenge. If there had been ear plugs available I am sure she would have worn them that first week of B band lessons.
I took my clarinet home every night and as soon as I arrived I went to my room and started to practice the scales. Learning the scales and how to finger each note was the easy part; learning how to keep the reed from squawking was another matter and as hard as I tried, about every fourth note was a high pitched squawk.
My old dog Brownie had been my faithful shadow since I was two and when I was home he never left my side. After the first few minutes the first night of trying to get the notes right and making the squawking noises, he abandoned his post.
The moment I started to play the first time he threw back his head, stuck his nose in the air and howled long and loud. That mournful sound brought Mom to the bedroom to see what was wrong. He rarely howled at anything so she thought something had happened to me. Once she saw what was going on she started to laugh and told him if she could howl she would join him because it was hurting her ears also. When she turned and left the room he quickly followed her and went outside.
From that day forward, the minute I went into the bedroom and laid the clarinet case on the bed he would run and want outside to get away from all the ear splitting sounds that emitted from that black stick.
If I could catch him before he turned tail and ran, I would shut the bedroom door and stop his hasty retreat. Then he immediately went to a corner and sat down and waited for the torture to begin. As soon as I played the first note he jumped to his feet and started pacing the floor in a circle with his head thrown back howling as loud as he could.
Sometimes as soon as I picked up the clarinet he would throw his head back and begin to howl even before a single note had been played. This always made me laugh and made it even harder to hit the notes right and I made more of the squawks and squeaks. Then he howled even more and the cycle continued as long as I practiced.
The time spent learning the clarinet strained my relationship with Brownie; even when I became proficient with it he still went outside to get away from me. He was my worst critic and continued to howl every time I played.
Even though Brownie never thought my playing was very good, Mrs. McCormick was very supportive while I was learning to play the clarinet. She made a point each day to tell all of her students that they were doing a good job. To contact Sandy: [email protected]